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Success in the Workplace
with Kristi Tackett-Newburg, Ph.D., LIMHP, CPC

4 Communication Styles That May Be Keeping You From Being Promoted at Work

Do you ever feel that no matter how hard you try, your hard work and diligence never seems to pay off? While your charming and outgoing colleagues continue to climb the corporate ladder? If so, it may be time for you to take a look at your communication styles.

A new study published in the journal Employee Relations suggests that communication continues to be the most important “soft skill” for employees to have in today’s workplace. Soft skills are a combination of personal qualities and interpersonal skills that help employees successfully perform their job.

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Employees who are self-aware know how and when to stand up to bossy co-workers, overbearing managers, and how to handle working with a difficult team.

On the other hand, a lack of self-awareness leads to poor communication, which can create friction, misunderstandings, and lead to turbulent relationships within the workplace.

Avoid These Four Communication Styles For Better Workplace Performance

The Submissive Style

Submissive or “passive” communicators have a difficult time expressing their thoughts and feelings to others. They are often unable to say “no” and will avoid confrontation at all costs. Often referred to as “people pleasers”, these individuals put their own needs aside, allowing others to always come first. They also tend to be apprehensive, self-conscious, and will preemptively apologize for things that are not their fault. This makes it difficult for them to trust their own judgment and they will often defer decision-making to others.

People on the receiving end of submissive communication are often left feeling confused; not knowing where they stand. Furthermore, they often view the submissive person as being weak or vulnerable, causing them to lose respect for that person.

Submissive Language

“I am so sorry, but do you mind…”

“Oh, it’s nothing, really.”

“This is probably wrong, but… “

“You should probably just do it.”

“I’m fine with whatever you choose.”

The Aggressive Style

Aggressive communicators express themselves in demanding and hostile ways. They often begin sentences with “You”, using insults and blame to get what they want. Aggressive people frequently present a “know-it-all” attitude and rarely show appreciation for others. They are often poor listeners and have a tendency to interrupt, monopolize and twist conversations in their favor.

People on the receiving end of aggressive communication are left feeling intimidated, angry and resentful. The aggressors sarcastic and threatening nature makes others feel and act defensively. Not surprisingly, aggressive individuals tend to be very disliked in the office. Submissive communicators are even more vulnerable to the effects of aggressive communication and often feel degraded, and humiliated during communication.

Aggressive Language

“I am never wrong.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You need to do it my way!”

“Don’t ask questions, just do it!”

“You better do this or else!

The Passive-Aggressive Style

Passive-Aggressive communicators use indirect forms of communication to let others know when they are angry or upset. Often quite destructive, these behaviors will manifest in the form of procrastination, pouting, chronic lateness, or failures to complete tasks they are responsible for. Passive-aggressive people will also frequently employ the “silent treatment” to indirectly let others know when they are upset.

Passive-aggressive individuals frequently play the victim, blame others, and make excuses to avoid issues. It is not uncommon to see them gossiping, spreading rumors, or sabotaging their colleagues. They are often seen as being “two-faced” or the “complainers” around the office, eliciting drama and chaos wherever they go.

People on the receiving end of passive-aggressive communication are often left feeling confused, annoyed, hurt, and resentful. In general, people tend to have a great dislike for passive-aggressive people and will go out of their way to avoid them.

Passive-Aggressive Language


“Geez…I was just kidding.”

“Don’t worry about me, I will figure it out like I usually do.”

“Why are you so mad?”

“I’m sure you are way more qualified than me anyway.”

The Manipulative Style

Manipulative communicators try to get what they want by making others feel sorry for them. They are masters at being controlling and influencing others to their own advantage. or controlling others. Their words frequently have underlying meanings that leave others feeling confused, frustrated, and dissatisfied.

Manipulative people operate from a victim mentality to influence and control those around them. They tend to be calculating and like to make others feel sorry for them. They are skilled at indirectly asking for things they want and gaining control over others in deceptive ways.

Manipulative people blame others for events. They make others feel obliged to them or to feel sorry for them. They will often use scare tactics to get people to do things for them.People on the receiving end of manipulative communication are often left feeling guilty and frustrated, irritated and resentful.

Manipulative Language

“You are so lucky to have this position, I wish I could have it. The boss just doesn’t like me I guess.”

“Don’t tell anyone this, but if I don’t get that assignment, I am going to quit on Monday.”

Don’t Let Poor Communication Styles Get in Your Way of Being Promoted!


Instead, practice ASSERTIVENESS!

The assertive communicator is confident, using direct and succinct words to communicate with others. Assertive people verbalize their thoughts and feelings and let others know what they need. These individuals have a good sense of self-awareness and know their own limitations. Because of this, they are able to say “no” to others without feeling guilty.

People hold assertive communicators in high regard, especially in the workplace. People on the receiving end of assertive communication know where they stand and feel respected during conversations.

The great news is that it is very possible to learn how to be assertive. If you want to begin practicing, start by always using “I-statements.” For example….

“I will think about it & get back to you.”

“Let me make sure I understand what you are saying.”

“I don’t have enough time to get to it today…how about tomorrow?”

“I understand you are having trouble with this…can I assist you?”

Be diligent and stick with it. Your assertiveness will go a long way in the workplace and put you on the right track for that next promotion!

4 Communication Styles That May Be Keeping You From Being Promoted at Work

Kristi Tackett-Newburg, Ph.D., LIMHP, CPC

Kristi Tackett-Newburg is a business psychologist, licensed psychotherapist, and the CEO/President of Counseling Connections & Associates located in Omaha, Nebraska.  Kristi's research interests include emotional intelligence, talent management and employee engagement. You can connect with her on her website, Facebook or on Twitter @ktackettnewburg

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APA Reference
Tackett-Newburg, K. (2017). 4 Communication Styles That May Be Keeping You From Being Promoted at Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Mar 2017
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